Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I love paella. I love eating it and I love making it. But, I don't make it very often, for a few reasons: 1. Although not complicated, it is time-consuming, 2. It really is best made for a crowd, and 3. Your crowd must eat all genres of food, since the dish traditionally contains meat, poultry and seafood. A visit from cousins this past weekend gave me an occasion to pull out the paella pan. Yes, I own a traditional Spanish paella pan, and if you plan on making paella more than once in your lifetime, I suggest you get one too. A paella pan is a shallow, steel pan with a dimpled bottom and two handles. Smaller ones can be found with diameters of about 14" and they can run to over 30" in diameter. The pan makes a great presentation as well; traditionally, the pan is brought to the table and guests serve themselves directly from the pan. Really, this is the only way to serve paella. Not only does it make for a dramatic presentation, but it keeps the food hot, allows the flavors to continue melding and adds to the fun and communality of the meal.
I am a big fan of serving regional food with regional wines. It really gives the meal a story, and a sense of place. And I find that these are generally just great pairings. Makes sense, no? So, I chose three Spanish wines for our dinner, a white, a red, and a rose. The white, the Nora 2006 Rias Baixas Albarino didn't make it to the dinner table. It was polished off with our tapas-style appetizers of olives, salted almonds, salami and cheese. Honestly, I was elbow-deep in paella while this bottle was going around, and didn't pay much attention to it. It was definitely nice, fruity and crisp with a medium-body. It was a good pairing with the apps, but I would have preferred Sherry. I love Sherry, but we'll save that for another post.
So, the paella pan came hot, to the table and we (four adults, and four little girls aged 4-13) dug in. The wines we had left were the Vega Sindoa 2006 Navarra Rose (50% Garnacha, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 1995 Marques de Arienzo Rioja Grand Riserva. I put the family on the spot, asking which wine they preferred with the dinner and why. The unanimous choice was the Rose. I was a little bit concerned that it might have been past its prime, but it was right on the money. Everyone used words like crisp, refreshing, palate-cleansing. It definitely was all of those things, but it had a good amount of body and structure, making it stand up to and with the complex flavors of the dish. As for the Rioja, the first word that comes to my mind is "yum." (I know that professional wine reviewers don't use that term, but it's my blog and I'll use it when I deem appropriate!) It had that fabulously earthy nose of an aged old-world wine, but you could still smell the fruit. And it burst onto the palate with brambly dark berries and cooked plums. I agreed with the group that it wasn't the best wine with the dish, but not with their reasons. Most said it was too big for the dish; I thought it was too delicate. I get what they were saying, it still had quite a bit of structure. But, to me, it had such subtle complexity, that the in-your-face complexity of the paella ran roughshod all over it. All in all, a great meal.
Dessert? Ice cream sandwiches....for the kids of course....

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